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6 things to watch for in Bills vs. Patriots | Week 8


1. Which Cam will the Bills see?

It's a bit of a confusing narrative in New England as the season hits the midway point. The Patriots do not look like the team the rest of the AFC East is accustomed to seeing. With a record of 2-4 and an offense that has struggled of late, it's new territory for sure.

At the center of those offensive struggles has been their new quarterback Cam Newton. The former NFL MVP got off to a solid start in New England, but his level of play has been in decline with each passing week and most noticeably since his return from his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Newton's passer rating each week has dropped precipitously.

  • Week 1 – 100.7
  • Week 2 – 94.6
  • Week 3 – 73.8
  • Week 6 – 51.6
  • Week 7 – 39.7

While there are likely multiple factors contributing to his inconsistent play, his turnovers have also been on the rise. After going mistake free in Week 1, Newton had at least one interception in each of his four starts that followed, with two in Week 6 and three in his last outing against San Francisco.

But head coach Sean McDermott, who knows Newton well having been with him in Carolina, is expecting the quarterback he remembers.

"He's still the same person. He's still the same player," McDermott said. "I had a front row seat to watch it over the years, in practice, and then on the game field. So, we've got to defend the best that's in Cam, and he's a former MVP of the league for a reason."

According to ESPN Stats, Newton's total QBR since Week 3 is 15.3, which is the lowest in the NFL.

2. A running it kind of day

With rain and high winds in the forecast for Sunday, it's likely that both clubs rely on their respective run games a bit more. That's good news for a Patriots team that ranks fourth in the league in rushing at 155 yards on the ground per game. Cam Newton is their team's leading rusher.

Meanwhile Buffalo's Josh Allen is second on the team in rushing, just 95 yards behind Devin Singletary.

Sunday's game features two of the most successful quarterbacks when it comes to rushing touchdowns.

Allen's 20 career rushing touchdowns are the second-most in NFL history by a quarterback through three seasons. The only quarterback in league history with more over their first three years is Newton, who rolled up 28.

Thus far this season, Newton is ahead of Allen in that category again. The Patriots QB leads his team with five rushing touchdowns. Allen leads Buffalo with three rushing touchdowns this season.

Whether Buffalo can run the ball as effectively as New England remains to be seen. The Patriots have not done well in stopping the run. They rank 27th in the league giving up more than 132 yards per game on the ground.

3. Not open for business

Contributing to the struggles of New England's passing attack is the inability for the team's receiving targets to gain consistent separation from their defenders. Since Week 3, per NextGen Stats, Patriots wide receivers are getting open only 13 percent of the time. Over that span it's the lowest success rate in the league.

Making matters worse is their leading receiver Julian Edelman is out indefinitely after undergoing knee surgery this week. Second-leading receiver N'Keal Harry is a question mark for Sunday after suffering a concussion in last week's game against the 49ers.

Two of the team's next three most successful receivers are running backs in James White and Rex Burkhead.

The Patriots are one of only five NFL clubs averaging fewer than 200 passing yards per game.

4. The return of a difference maker?

After two straight days of full practice it appears that John Brown is likely to return to Buffalo's lineup after gutting his way through a knee injury to play against the Chiefs and missing the second matchup with the Jets last week.

Brown, who has turned the number one receiver role over to Stefon Diggs this season, is still a vital cog in Buffalo's passing attack as evidence by his absence.

Without the speed receiver in the lineup this season, the Bills have averaged 17 points per game. With him they average 28.

Diggs, who has scored all three of his touchdowns in games in which Brown has played knows the difference Brown can make but believes there is even a bigger issue impacting the offense of late.

"Just getting one of our weapons back definitely makes our offense better, but it's on us to be executing at a high level," said Diggs. "We've had a lot of red zone penalties and penalties in general that put us behind the sticks. Looking back at the Tennessee game we had an early turnover and we moved the ball pretty well. Just things like that and we can kind of somewhat put in our hands and take responsibility for him be accountable for executing at a high level is everybody."

Buffalo will be looking to have a more penalty free performance after being assessed a season high 11 penalties against the Jets last week.

5. An attitude change

The Bills offensive line has not performed as consistently as it did a season ago. The combination of lineup shuffling, due in part to injury, and no reps together in OTAs or in the preseason led to a slow start. But the men up front feel as though it's coming together now as the group hits midseason and they're likely to get a key piece back.

Guard, Jon Feliciano was activated off injured reserve this week after undergoing surgery for a torn pectoral muscle suffered in late July right before training camp. It's been a 12-week recovery period, but it appears that Feliciano is poised to return to the starting lineup and his return could not come at a better time.

With starting left guard Cody Ford out this week due to a knee injury, Feliciano could conceivably slide right in to Ford's spot on Sunday.

"Just the mentality that he kind of brings to the front five, the knowledge and communication elements," said Josh Allen. "He's been itching to get back out there and he's been working his tail off to get back out there and just seeing how hard he's worked in rehab it's been very promising."

Although coach McDermott hasn't definitively said whether Feliciano will be on a pitch count in his return to action or if he'll even start, the veteran lineman believes his rehab regimen has him ready for game action.

"I think it's a credit to the coaches and the training staff that didn't really rush me back," said Feliciano. "I was trying to get activated weeks before they activated me. Thankfully they didn't listen to me. Two weeks ago I wasn't ready. I think the coaches and the training staff of helping me realize that and having a plan of how to get my strength back fast and my conditioning up."

Even though Feliciano started at right guard last season, he's more than comfortable on the left side if he's needed there as well.

"In college I was mainly left guard and in Oakland I played left and right guard," he said. "So I'm comfortable with whatever."

6. Coughing it up

It has been very uncharacteristic of Bill Belichick coached teams, but in 2020 the Patriots have not taken care of the football. Through their first six games, New England has turned the ball over 14 times.

Three times via fumble and 11 times with interceptions. Their 14 giveaways rank second-highest in the league.

As for team history, there are full seasons in which the Patriots have had fewer than 14 turnovers. In the Bill Belichick era, New England had fewer than 14 giveaways in a season in 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Currently the Patriots are on pace for 37 giveaways, which would be the most in a season for the club since 1994.

Scroll through to see the best photos from Buffalo's practice as they prepare for Week 8 against the New England Patriots.

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